Monday, August 3, 2009

#BookReview: The House at Sugar Beach - Helene Cooper

In the early 1800s, several freemen of color set sail for Africa from the United States, settling in what came to be known as Liberia, with the assistance of the American Colonization Society. Helene Cooper, a descendant of these people introduces us to them in this well written and visually descriptive memoir. While the story itself is set in the late 60s through present-day, the reader is given historical lessons about Liberia and its people dating back to the beginnings of their society.

Helene's family is a part of the elite, the Congo people, generally made up of those Americo-Liberian descendants of the settlers. It's a custom of the Congo people to take in children of lesser society, or "country" people. Helene's family takes in Eunice, a Bassa girl, who becomes Helene's closest confidante.

Helene's family is forced to flee the country in the 80s, leaving Eunice behind, when the country people stage military coups to take back the land which they feel is rightfully theirs. While the first half of the book covers her childhood growing up in Liberia, the second half covers her adjustment to America, finding her passion for journalism, and the trip that eventually forces her to return to Liberia to look for the sister she left behind.

Often when I read books set in another country, I'm fascinated by the local sayings or phrases. My favorite from this book is, "I hold your foot," which is the Liberian way of begging someone's pardon. I caught the side eye when I said this to my daughter. What can I say? She should be used to me by now.

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